LYNN HAVEN, Fla. (WMBB) — A Lynn Haven business owner is hoping that a federal judge will once again see things his way and throw out a new criminal indictment that claims he committed fraud and bribery.
James Finch, the owner of Phoenix Construction, and Margo Anderson, the former mayor of Lynn Haven, are accused of multiple crimes involving several city projects both before and after Hurricane Michael.
Six other people have pleaded guilty in the case including former City Manager Mike White and former City Attorney Adam Albritton. A seventh defendant, former City Commissioner Antonious Barnes, pleaded guilty in a separate case but is now prepared to testify that Finch bribed him.
But a new motion filed by Finch’s attorney, Guy Lewis, seeks to scuttle the entire indictment. Lewis — who has won nearly every motion in the case so far — claims that federal prosecutors have once again charged Finch with being part of a large conspiracy even though he had no knowledge or connection to parts of the alleged crimes.
Lewis repeatedly noted that three months ago Judge Mark Walker ruled that this argument was valid and dismissed a major portion of the case. That ruling essentially ended the case and led prosecutors to seek a new “superseding” indictment. ‘
“Unfortunately, the Superseding Indictment incorporated much of the same confusing, legally flawed, inaccurate language from the initial Indictment,” Lewis wrote.
At issue are five projects that have been part of the case from the beginning and whether or not Finch bribed Barnes and Anderson to get favorable contracts for his company. But, there appears to be no evidence that Finch was involved in some parts of the case. That includes fraudulent billing by another Company, Erosion Controlled Specialists, and that WorldClaim offered to perform public adjustment work for free for Anderson and others in exchange for a city contract.
One of Lewis’ strongest arguments remains Finch’s health during Hurricane Michael.
“Indeed, the allegations claim that this conspiracy was allegedly hatched, on or about October 9, 2018, immediately after Hurricane Michael,” Lewis wrote. “As this plan was hatched, James Finch was in a coma in the hospital in Jacksonville, Florida, having suffered a debilitating stroke. Finch was completely unaware of a hurricane hitting Lynn Haven and the magnitude of damage to the city until he was being driven back to his hometown on or about October 30, 2018.”
However, while prosecutors might expect that the case would simply be narrowed down and for the charges that do involve Finch to move forward to trial Lewis argues that is not possible.
If the case moves forward as-is the jury will be tainted against Finch by the discussion of the other conspiracies, Lewis wrote. And, according to Lewis, the judge can’t, at this stage, overrule the intent of The Grand Jury who incorrectly applied the law at the behest of federal prosecutors. Lewis writes that this means the case can’t move forward against Finch even on the charges that do involve him.
“Under the circumstances, dismissal of the whole indictment is the only remedy that will ensure compliance … And, even if misjoinder were not an insurmountable problem for the government, the indictment should be dismissed because the risk of trial prejudice is too severe,” Lewis wrote.
A hearing in the case is scheduled for next week.